July 20, 2009

Is it Time to Replace Prequalification with Marketing?

Not everybody is in the market for your solution that is clear. However, in the present climate if you only focus on those who have a budget and are ready to buy, your sales potential would be limited indeed.

In times of buoyant demand salespeople are well advised to be highly selective about where they focus their scarce sales resources.But, when there are fewer buyers with the cheque book ready, a change of approach is needed.

Pre-qualification in Tough Markets.
In difficult market conditions searching for low hanging fruit and getting the best prospects ‘across the line’ must be balanced with nurturing those who represent vaguer and longer term prospects.

Put another way it means that you have to sell to those without a clear and immediate need. That is those buyers satisfied with the status quo.

You need to generate demand among those who may not be fully aware they have a problem. Through your interaction you have got to nudge them along - educating them as to what they are missing, inspiring them as to what is possible and provoking them to what is needed.

Prequalification that Looks Beyond This Quarter.
The only problem is that in the present climate the field of vision of the typical sales organization has narrowed considerably. Meeting this quarter’s target leaves little time for anything else.

For example, many salespeople complain about the quality of leads, indeed it is often the number one issue of contention between sales and marketing. Here is how the post meeting conversation about ‘a fresh lead’ goes ‘I made the effort, I showed up, I did the dog and pony show, but they will never buy… what a waste of time – thanks a lot marketing!’

This is what happens when sales teams are focused on this quarter, with little attention to the next.

An 'Irrational' Obsession with Prequalification.
Many sales people have an irrational aversion to meeting with ‘tyre-kickers’ and a fear of wasting time educating the curious.

I say it is 'irrational' because busy buyers and managers won’t waste their time talking unnecessarily to salespeople. This is particularly the case at senior management levels.

However, those of us who have picked up the phone to buyers enough know that crass and crude measures of pre-qualification are ineffective. In particular establishing budget, authority, need and timing (BANT) on the basis of little more than a cold call is a pipe dream.

Replace Prequalification with Better Targeting.
Prequalification becomes less important where there is careful targeting of sales and marketing efforts. However, it does not help that the quality of target customer lists is often poor and the level of screening applied is lax.

The absence of a clear profile for the ideal target customer is also a factor that accounts for the irrational and premature emphasis on prequalification. So, unless prospects can jump the hurdle of prequalification he, or she does not deserve our attention (think about it).

Well, unfortunately the market is not big enough to enable salespeople to focus only on those who are ready to buy. A new approach is required, consideration needs to be given to how well the prospect fits the profile of an ideal customer.

How Prequalification Criteria Has Changed.

Old Criteria
New Criteria

Will they buy?
Fit the Profile
Could have a need
Could buy in the future
Should we talk?

Salespeople must look beyond BANT to ask questions such as;
- Should they be on our target list?
- Should we be talking to them?
- Could they have a need and could they potentially buy our solution?
Nurturing Contacts.
The new approach to pre-qualification requires adopting a longer term perspective as to the potential of any target customer. Although a prospect may not contribute to this quarter’s target, they could one or two quarters out.
But how will you effectively and efficiently nudge these could be customers along while you are chasing those already in your pipeline and in shopping mode?
Well, the answer is by a programme of nurturing that involves one to one contact through your marketing, for example:
Week 1: Send a white paper (not a brochure)
Week 6: Call to invite to an event, or webinar.
Week 12: Send a clipping from a magazine, or press release
Week 16: Ask if they would like an executive briefing on a relevant topic
Week 24: Ask if they would like to talk to one of our gurus or expert
s about a new area
Week 25: Send a customer success story in the post
And so on.

Then your marketing does your pre-qualification for you. You will get to determine
who is genuinely interested, while educating your prospects along the way and nurturing them to sales readiness.

All the while you have built the relationship, demonstrated your commitment and hopefully, based on the quality of the engagement, shown your company to be an expert in its industry.

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